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Friday, September 30th

BOCC Starts Work On 06' Budget

Coming from a recent history of stating the County simply cannot provide all the services that everyone wants, The BOCC received a presentation on Tuesday from Auditor Si Stephens on the 2006 budget, and were told what they already knew, that the:
"BOCC, elected officials, department heads, the public, employees all need to understand San Juan County cannot afford to do everything we would like to do in the manner we would like to do it". The problem is the same as last year, and the year before that: there is not enough money coming into the County treasury."

There are some services that are required by law to be provided -and there is no escaping these- and there are those expenses that the County is locked into as a result of contractual obligations, such as the County payroll-benefits and the Cost of Living increases (the so-called "bow wave") that may reach, or exceed, $600,000 this year. Then there are the yearly capital costs, the new equipment that departments want/need (such as three new dump trucks, and three new cars, etc, for $583,761.00), and of course the maintenance costs.

And there are the costs of real estate purchase, and improvements, and proposed projects. In the Roads Capital section of the presentation, there is $1,500,000.00 for the LaFarge Barge landing, but nothing for capital improvements and maintenance of the land if it is purchased.

The quick solution in the past has been to transfer money from one department to another; and to also raise fees. There have been concerns expressed that moving funds from the so-called Capron funds may jeopardize receiving these funds in the future, but that has been the policy in the past, and may well be one of the final actions taken again this year. The past BOCC has warned that If the County should lose the Capron funds, the County will be in a budget hole they may not be able to get out of.

There will more work on the budget work in October, and a public hearing on November 15


Thursday, September 29th

BOCC May Impose Building Moratorium

ig-Paul_Halverson-1 (12k image) Bob Henigson addresses BOCC, & offers money to speed up planning)

Responding to continuing requests by the Deer Harbor Citizen Committee for the BOCC to impose a development moratorium on land use and construction activity in the Deer Harbor section of Orcas island, Alan Lichter made a motion, for discussion purposes, to impose a six month "full freeze" moratorium on the Deer Harbor area. After discussion by the Board with attorney Randy Gaylord, it was decided a draft ordinance should be prepared for Board review.

The issue of new regulations for Deer Harbor has been before the Board for a number of years, and the request by the Deer Harbor Committee for a moratorium is a result of the length of time it has taken for the County to finalize new development regulations; not only for Deer Harbor, but also Orcas Village and Olga. Because of concerns that large scale commercial development will take place before there are new regulations in place to control it, the Committee has been pressing for a moratorium.

Because of the work load of the SJC Planning Department, progress has been slow, and in an effort to speed up the process, a member of the Deer Harbor Committee, Bob Henigson , offered $5,000.00 of his own money to go toward the cost of retaining a private consultant to complete the work necessary to create a Deer Harbor Activity Center. While the Board was thoughtful about the offer, they were concerned the consultants bill would exceed the amount offered, and also pointed out it would be necessary for the County to hire the consultant, and to control the process.

Prosecuting Attorney Randy Gaylord had been asked by the Board to review the proposal for a moratorium, and inform and advised the BOCC as to what extent a moratorium could be imposed. Gaylord reported back to the board that state law allows for a moratorium, but that a public hearing will be required, and that the duration of the moratorium cannot exceed six months, after which a new public hearing can be held, and the moratorium can once again be extended for a new six month period; but in each case the Board will have to produce findings of fact that justify their action. What the Board cannot do is simply impose a moratorium without justification, and a public hearing on their rustication that a need exists for a moratorium.

Gaylord also advised the Board that a ban on all development opens the County to possible legal action with respect to taking "takings" of the rights of property owners, but by listing exemptions -a "safe harbor"- to the moratorium, the possibility of successful legal action is reduced.

After hearing from Gaylord, the Board directed him to prepare a draft ordinance for Board review.

After all was said and done, it still appeared doubtful that a moratorium will address all of the concerns of the Deer Harbor group, since under state law a moratorium will not include lands within the shoreline, and much of Deer Harbor is within 200 feet of the shoreline; an area that is legally defined as being shoreline


Wednesday, September 28th

Whatever It Takes

ig_CDP_FRED_S-1 (39k image)Fred Schaller in his "new" work space

Building Inspector Fred Schaller does not think that his reward for being called to duty at 4:00 am on the morning of the SJC annex building fire was be one of the few to still have an office in the building, but he is happy to have been able to find a small space in the building to continue his work as a building plans reviewer and inspector.

The other staff members are scattered about the county offices, working as best they can, under the circumstances, to keep the paper work flowing. There are two Permit Coordinators holed up in the basement "break room" in the Court House (photo), there is a Planning Staff member sharing an office at the Health Department, and The Guardian even found one using a computer in the Prosecuting Attorney's office. "Whatever it takes", seems to be the order-of-the-day. Public Works plans to have the building repairs completed by Oct. 3rd.


Tuesday, September 27th

Bld & Planning Closed Until Oct 3rd: Fire Damage

ig_FIRE-CDP-1 (32k image) Public Works personnel respond on Saturday to repair damage

UPDATE:Appeals that are time-sensitive and that need to be submitted in person should be taken to the front desk at the Health and Community Services Department by 4:30 PM on the required day. The Health and Community Services Department's address is 145 Rhone Street in Friday Harbor (the next door down from the Community Development and Planning Department).

Presently Department staff are working at remote locations to continue to process building and land use permits.

A fire of unknown origins started in the ceiling of the Court House Annex early Saturday morning. Smoke was seen coming from the flat roof of the building and the Friday Harbor Fire Department responded to the scene. The source of the smoke was between the ceiling and the roof of the building, directly over a common work and file area of the Community Development & Planning Department.

When the FH Fire Fighters evaluated the scene, they decided they had time to cover the files and office equipment with tarps prior to opening the ceiling and putting out the fire with water. According to Dave Zeretzke, the SJC Risk Manager, this professional approach to combating the fire saved the taxpayers thousands of dollars, for had they not taken the action they did to protect the office interior from water and debris damage, there would have been equipment and documents destroyed by the water.

Public Works personnel were joined on Saturday in the job of cleaning up the debris and working on patching the hole in the roof, by an employee of the roofing company that has been re-roofing the building. It is expected the Planning and Building departments will be closed until Thursday morning.

[Oct 3rd: Fire Damage">more..]

Saturday, September 24th

Grants For Habitat Restoration On Private Lands

The Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) has announced in a press release that private landowners can apply for up to $50,000 in federal grant funding to restore habitat on their property for "species at risk":

Applications are being accepted until Dec. 16 for habitat restoration projects through the Landowner Incentive Program (LIP). WDFW is developing a portfolio of potential projects to submit to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for funding in 2006.

Qualifying landowners are typically eligible for up to $50,000 in assistance. In addition, $50,000 will be set aside for small grants. An individual applying for these small grant funds may apply for up to $5,000.

Eligible landowners must be able to make a 25 percent contribution, which may include cash and/or in-kind work. Project applications are due by Dec. 16.

"Species at risk" are fish or wildlife species that are federally or state-listed as threatened or endangered, or proposed as candidates for listing as threatened or endangered, as well as any other animal species determined to be at risk by WDFW.

"With more than half of Washington in private ownership, it's clear that restoring habitat on privately owned property is an important part of strengthening fish and wildlife populations across the state," said WDFW Director Jeff Koenings.

More information about LIP is available by contacting LIP Coordinator Ginna Correa at (360) 902-2478.


Monday, September 19th

New Proposed Tax Moves Slowly Forward

ig_HB_BOCC-09-06-05 (40k image)(Left to Right: John Manning & Randy Gaylord from the County, and Paul Losleben & Susan Dehlendorf from the Housing Project)

The Housing Bank concept continues to move slowly toward appearing on a ballot for voter approval -or rejection. After an initial false start, the group organizing the drive to place an excise tax on the sale of property has made steady progress toward completion of the legal steps necessary to comply with state law in presenting the tax to the voters. If approved, the measure will place a one half percent real estate tax on the sale of all property in San Juan County. The money collected will be used to fund financing aid for housing through an " application process through which it (the Housing Bank Commission) will consider proposals from private and nonprofit organizations. It will work with financial institutions, private builders and non-profit community organizations to assemble teams around specific projects. It will then respond to proposals by these teams and will apply capstone funding to provide the essential last element of funding needed. The Housing Bank Commission will recommend to the County Commissioners and the county will then award contracts to the most viable projects that meet the Housing Bank's criteria.", Representatives of the housing group recently met with the BOCC to hammer out differences between their suggested ordinance, and the ordinance that the Prosecuting Attorneys office had prepared.

The issue before the BOCC was resolving which of the ordinances, if any, would appear on a February special election ballot, that if approved by the voters would allow the proposed tax. One of the main sticking points was the question of just who would be paying the tax. The Housing Project group (a part of the Navigating Our Future organization) wanted to make the tax burden fall on the buyer, but the County pointed out that state law requires some sharing of the tax by both the seller and the buyer.

After discussion by the BOCC, a resolution (97-2005) was passed that allows the process to move forward. The resolution will restructure the existing Affordable Housing Fund Commission, and re-name it the "Housing Bank Commission", which will bring it more into line with the goal of the proposed Housing Bank concept.

The next step will be a final ordinance draft that will be made available to the public for comment in a public hearing process, and then the measure -in some form or other- will go to the voters for a Yes or No vote.


Wednesday, September 14th

Gaylord & Bahrych At Odds On Sherman Case

ig_BOCC_GAYLORD-2 (12k image) (Randy Gaylord)

The President of the Friends of the San Juans, Lynn Bahrych, has sent out a press release in response to a story in The Island Guardian about the recent law suit filed in San Juan County Superior Court by Mr. Sherman over the Growth Management's order on ADUs, also known as "guest houses" ("Growth Board Sued In Local Court") The suit argues that even though he, and others, had applied for a permit prior to the Friends appeal of the San Juan Counties regulations that govern where, and when, a guest house, or a main house, can be built, that they are now improperly restricted from developing their properties by not being allowed to have both a guest house, and a main house.

Sherman believes that because their applications clearly stated that their intent was to build a guest house and a main house, they were "vested" under Washington law, and that later decisions of the Growth Board in response to the Friends does not negate their rights to proceed.

In the press release, Bahrych states she wishes "to clear up any misunderstanding about this", and that "neither I nor the Friends of the San Juans has taken the position that Mr. Sherman should not be allowed to build his main house. On the contrary, we have argued in our briefs, which are public records, that he has a vested right to build his main house. Prosecuting Attorney Randy Gaylord agrees that Bahrych has argued this position, but told the Guardian that in his legal opinion, the arguments she has presented in support of the Friends position are simply incorrect.

Bahrych maintains that the Friends are "not standing in Mr. Sherman's way. We think that it is unreasonable to prevent him from building a main house when he had a bona fide guest house permit in September of 2000 and a county-approved site plan. To prevent him from building his main house under those circumstances seems unreasonable and unfair." While Gaylord may, or may not, feel that Mr. Sherman and the others are being treated unfairly, Gaylord believes that Bahrych and the Friends are attempting to say it is the County who is making a determination on vesting, but Gaylord says it is the Growth management Board that has made the determination, and that he is simply doing his job as the attorney for the BOCC.

Gaylord states that he has asked Bahrych for the legal authority for her interpretation, but believes the cases she has cited are not legally controlling in the current case. Gaylord maintains that based on his role as County Prosecutor "My job is to make the call" on how the County must respond to the Growth Board orders. Because of the recent suit filed in SJC Superior Court, Gaylord has also invited the attorneys that are involved in the case to cite any case law that they believe has relevance on the issue, but points out his job is to deal with the parties in the case, and while Bahrych and the Friends action to appeal the County to the Growth Management Board has resulted in the current lawsuit, Gaylord said his responsibility is to respond to the case at hand, and the question will be resolved, not in the court of public discourse, but in a court room.


BOCC Ignores PA Advice, Stays Guesthouse lawsuit

ig_BOCC_GAYLORD-1 (29k image)Gaylord States His Case For The Court System

After the Comprehensive Plan, and the rules and regulations that enforce it were sent to the GMB (Growth Management Board) for their approval, the portion of the plan that controlled and regulated guesthouse construction was appealed by the Friends (Friends of the San Juans), who argued that the regulations were inadequate. It is has been the contention by the Friends that the population density in SJ County could be doubled under the current regulations.

The GMB told the County they must do a comprehensive study to show what the impacts of allowing guest houses would be, and how any negative impacts would be mitigated. A study was done by the Planning Department that showed, among other things, that based on a review of other communities in the country that allowed guest houses, that the density did not -in fact- double, and impacts would not be contrary to the demands of the GMB. The work submitted by the County to the GMB was not sufficient to satisfy the demands of the GMB, or the appeals by the Friends.

As a result, the BOCC (Board of County Commissioners) went to court to state their case, and was ruled against at the Superior Court level. The County then appealed the lower court ruling to the Court of Appeals. The case has now been presented, and all parities have been waiting for the Court's decision. In the meantime the Friends have been pushing to have the County sit down in executive session with them and come to an agreement that would negate the need for a Court order.

While executive sessions are conducted in secret, the fact that the County and the Friends have been having meetings on a proposal by the Friends is no secret. Lynn Bahrych told The Guardian that the Friends had sent a proposal to the BOCC last April, but had not received a response until two weeks ago, when the former Executive Director of the Friends, and now County Commissioner, Kevin Ranker, made some notes on the proposal, sent it off to Commissioner Lichter, and others, and opened up the dialog on a possibly settlement.

Last Tuesday (9-6-05) the BOCC agenda included an item at 2:30 P.M. that simply stated "Accessory Dwelling Unit Proposal" At the appointed time Ranker acknowledged that 70% of the voting public had supported allowing guesthouses in SJ County, and told the public in attendance that he had decided the time had come to settle the matter outside of the court system, and that to that end was willing to accept the proposal from the Friends as a starting point for settlement. It quickly became apparent that Commissioner Lichter was on the same page as Ranker, but the public had no idea what the proposal was, or how it might effect them, either in a positive or a negative way, since no copies were presented, and of course the discussion up to that point had been held in private.

Ranker explained that he would like the BOCC "to go back to the Growth Management Board with the Friends to ask for compliance" based on the proposal from the Friends, and would like to withdraw the County case from the Court of Appeals; or at least ask the Court to stop the process until the BOCC and Friends worked out all the details of a settlement. The Friends wanted to go a step further and ask the Court to dismiss the lawsuit with prejudice, which would prevent the County from any possible future legal action on the matter -for any reason.

Prosecuting Attorney Randy Gaylord was asked to addressed the issue, and began by explaining what the process had been up to this point, and expressed in no uncertain terms, that as the lawyer for the BOCC, it was his legal opinion that it would be a mistake for the Board to stop the legal process. He explained that to enter into the proposed settlement would "put the County into a box" and later stated "You are going into a trap that you will never be able to get out of". He pointed out that recent court rulings in other cases show the law and the findings by the GMB are dynamic, and are changing in ways that may be helpful to the County to allow guesthouses as allowed by the current county regulations. Toward the end of his time, Gaylord also expressed his view that "parts of the proposal by the Friends are contrary to law".

Ranker told Gaylord that he disagreed with his legal opinions, and that the BOCC should settle with the Friends. Commissioner Lichter felt that rather than withdrawing from the suit, the County should ask the Court to hold up on their decision for 180 days while the Friends proposal is reviewed.

In the end the Board passed a motion to use the Friends proposal as a basis for a settlement, and to ask the Friends to join the BOCC in asking the Court of Appeals to stay the case for 180 days. Ranker then turned to Gaylord and informed him that he had been in contact with a clerk at the Court of Appeals and had a fax number and some forms that might be helpful to allow Gaylord to quickly ask for the stay. The County's Prosecuting Attorney did not respond to Rankers comment.

The public will have an opportunity to now review the settlement proposal, and when it is sent to the Planning Commission for their review and possible recommendations the public will be allow to comment. Any recommendations from the Planning Commission will be forwarded to the BOCC for action, and the public will once again have be able to comment at that time.

So will this action by the Board, against the advice of their legal counsel, finally resolve the guesthouse issue? No, but it does open up the process all over again, and will even allow for new appeals to be filed. There is also the question of will the Court of Appeals play ball with the BOCC and Friends, or will they decide the case needs to be resolved in the courts, and deny the request for the stay of a decision. The lid may have been taken off of the can.


Interim Director To Return To PW

ig_Matt_Zybas-2 (12k image) (file photo: Matt Zybas)
Citing the demands of the job, Matt Zybas announced to the Community Development & Planning Staff that he will not be putting his name forward as a potential candidate to be the permanent director of the department.

Zybas was appointed as the interim director of the department after Deputy Director Shaw was fired in May of this year. While Commissioner Miller stated at the time that she was "excited about the new opportunities to have a fresh start in the department", there were no noticeable changes made, and the time to process a building permit has increased from what it once was. In June, Zybas told the BOCC that he would not be replacing the Deputy Director position that had been filled by Shaw, and he intended to hire an outside consultant to advise him on ways to improve the department.

It is reported that Zybas will continue to serve until a new Director is hired, and plans to be part of a committee that will interview and advised the BOCC on the hiring of the new Director.

Zybas will be returning to Public Works once his replacement has been selected. While on the job Zybas impressed the public with an open door policy and willingness to respond to concerns and questions about the department, and was popular with the staff. One observer opined that the job is simply too big for one person to try and control, and that since the building and planning portions were once again combined, and by not hiring a deputy, Zybas was simply overwhelmed by the combination of the day-to-day work load and the demands of the political and legal pressures that have been a part of the job. Adding to the pressure and demands is the travel time of commuting from his home on Orcas to Friday Harbor.


Monday, September 5th

BOCC To Discuss ADUs

ig_BOCC_8-10-05 (24k image)

The SJC Board of Commissioners 2:30 PM, Tuesday September 6, 2005 have placed on the agenda the following: "Accessory Dwelling Unit Proposal", until 3:10, and then resume again at 3:20 PM to "Continued Discussion or BOCC Matters if Necessary".

It is not know what aspect of the ADU issue will be discussed, and to what end, but as reported in The Island Guardian previously, (Link) there is the possibility the BOCC will abandon the fight to effect the regulations contained in the Unified Development Code (UDC) and settle with those who have in the past appealed to the Growth Management Board.


Friday, September 2nd

New $5.00 Flat Tax: Conservation District

In a move designed to raise money for the SJC Conservation District, the BOCC has approved a new flat tax of $5.00 per parcel for the next five years, and may extend it after five years, and another public hearing on the proposal. The District points out that " this is a flat fee per parcel which will not change with assessed valuation and that it is capped by state law". At the recent public hearing held to hear comment on the proposal no one spoke against it, and the motion to pass was unanimous.

According to the District, the tax will raise approximately $70,000.00 a year that will allow the Conservation District to plan and continue programs with some financial assurance they can be funded. Up to now the District has relied on grants and other sources of funding that are not constant, and this has prevented long range planning and the assured funding for the following programs the new tax will fund:

Promoting and supporting sustainable agriculture and food security--$20,000;

Watershed action (including water quality monitoring, habit restoration, promotion of conservation practices) --$20,000;

Conservation incentive program (cost share assistance to landowners as an incentive for voluntary conservation practices that protect community resources)--$15,000;

District basic operations that are not adequately supported by grant funds--$15,000.

More can be learned about the Conservation District by clicking on the following Link to their website


Tom Bauschke
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